Which Handgun Should I Buy?

handgun proper handfit

A gun that properly fits the shooter’s hand allows the shooter to take advantage of natural eye/hand coordination because it naturally aligns the muzzle of the gun as if pointing a finger at the target.

Assuming that you are buying a gun for personal protection, the first issue to face is whether you are going to carry the firearm with you, or keep it off body, but in a convenient location.

Will you carry the gun with you wherever you go or just under certain, rare circumstances? The answers to these questions help to determine the type and size of the gun, as well as its caliber, to optimize the firearm for your intended purpose.

holding handgun

Ideally, the backstrap of the gun should be nearly centered in the web of the hand between the thumb and the index finger.

What’s your hand size? How skilled are you at shooting? The size of the user and the skill level of the user with firearms can make a huge difference in finding the best tool for the job.

There are other considerations, but if we just go with these, we can cover a lot of ground toward narrowing the possibilities.

Most people tend to think about small handguns when the concept of personal protection is brought up. This may be on the right track, but there are other considerations too.

One primary consideration is fitting the gun to the hand. There are two elements to this. First is the circumference of the grip. The dominant hand should have contact on as much of the grip surface as possible without the tips of the fingers coming into hard contact with the heel of the palm. If the fingers interfere with the palm, consistent grip is compromised and multiple accurate shots are unlikely. Conversely, if the grip circumference is too large, the finger tips won’t clear the front strap (the area of the grip directly behind and in line with the trigger guard) and will make it very difficult to control the movement of the gun during discharge.


If the index finger isn’t long enough to reach the trigger properly with the correct grip position, the gun is too big for the hand.

Ideally, the back strap of the gun (the rearmost portion of the grip in line with the front strap and the trigger guard) should be nearly centered in the web of the hand between the thumb and the index finger. The goal is to have the muzzle of the gun pointing at the same place as if we were pointing at our intended target with our index finger. This allows us to take advantage of our natural eye/hand coordination which is consistently available to us even under stress.

The second element to fitting the gun to the hand is trigger reach. With the recommended grip position of the hand on the grip, the index finger should be able to reach and pull the trigger to fire the gun without pulling the muzzle off the target. At a minimum, the index finger should have full contact across the face of the trigger to fire the first shot.

If the index finger isn’t long enough to reach the trigger properly with the correct grip position, the gun is too big for the hand. A short reach trigger or a smaller grip circumference are options if you already have a gun that is too big for your hand.

Conversely, if the index finger naturally extends across the face of the trigger past the first joint, there is the potential of the finger movement being restricted to the point of not being able to fully pull the trigger to discharge the gun.

By fitting the gun to the hand, you should be able point the gun naturally and fire it without disturbing your natural point. An easy way to verify your ability to hold the gun and operate the trigger without adding movement to the muzzle is the “Wall Drill” [see CCM July 2010, p. 16 (http://www.usconcealedcarry.com/?p=2415)].

small gun

When the firearm is too small for the shooter’s hand, it becomes very difficult to control during rapid follow-up shots.

Gun size also dovetails with body size and type for those who intend to carry concealed. A good place to start is on the dominant side at the center of the hip, in line with the trouser seam. A belt mount will be the simplest to start with for most people. You should be able to access and draw the gun in the most expedient manner and holster, all with the dominant hand only, and carrying a handgun should not interfere with your daily life. You may have to change your wardrobe to effectively carry concealed, but that is a small price to pay for being able to protect yourself.

Whether the handgun is intended for concealed carry or secreted in your home for home defense, the same principles of hand fit apply. If the overall external dimensions of the pistol are not of concern, an extended magazine could save having to reload in the middle of the night, especially when you are on the move and forgot to bring your spare magazine with you.

I have to agree with the general thinking that a 9mm Parabellum pistol is a good starting point for a semi-automatic, however, the new high performance ammunition currently loaded for the .380 ACP should be considered as a viable option. For those who prefer the revolver, the venerable .38 Special cartridge is the gold standard.

small gun

Since hands come in different sizes, a gun that is far too small for one shooter might be just right for another.

Finally, as important as anything that I have mentioned, the gun must be reliable. It has to work first time every time if your life is dependent on it. The road to reliability is paved with a quality firearm, properly maintained and accompanied with ammunition of equal quality designed for the purpose at hand.

Along with that goes serious training and regular practice so that when you face the unexpected your likelihood of success is very high. Just because you own a gun is next to meaningless if you don’t know how to use it, particularly under a heightened emotional state.

Simple Is Good!


[ George Harris has dedicated his life to the study and education of others in firearms and tactics training. As a military shooter he earned the distinction of becoming Double Distinguished with the Service Pistol and the Service Rifle. George retired after 21 years as Co- Founder and Director of a well known firearms academy to continue the pursuit of his passion for firearms training and program development. ]



This new column from longtime writer George Harris will address questions that concern new shooters and people just getting started with concealed carry. Email your questions to questions@usconcealedcarry.com.

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